FUERTEVENTURA MAGAZINE hoy
The last palm grove of Canarian Palm trees in Fuerteventura is the object of a desert climates’ reforestation project FMHOY - Fuerteventura Barranco del Buen Paso, located in Betancuria’s Rural Park, and on the track of Las Peñitas that joins the municipalities of Pájara and Betancuria, is the location of the oldest palm grove recorded in the Canaries; indeed is was mentioned in the chronicles written by the conquerors Jean de Bethencourt and Gadifer de la Salle after their arrival on the island in 1402. In addition to its historical interest, the peculiarity of this natural space comes from the purity of the fifty Canarian palm trees that it contains, which are all identified genetically to this species. The Canarian Palm tree (Phoenix canariensis Chabaud) and the date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera) are the two types of palm trees that are typical of the Islands – their presence on the archipelago dates from before the human population-, but the fact that they are compatible with each other has created a progressive process of hybridisation that could cause the disappearance of both species. The last palm grove of Canarian palm trees in Fuerteventura survives in Barranco de Buen Paso, but not in the same conditions as those the conquerors witnessed at the beginning of the 15th century, when Gadifer de la Salle described the area as “dense and luxurious”. The interest of preserving this precious palm grove has motivated the public administrations to start a reforestation plan. The deputy council of the Environment of the Canarian Government, in collaboration with Fuerteventura’s Cabildo, is launching the repopulation of the Palm grove with the “Monteverde Project”. A Euro-African cooperation for the forestry improvement of the Atlantic area with knowledge and fight against desertification”. The arid conditions of the Majorero climate were a key element when it came to choosing where this experimental project was going to take place, which will help evaluate the response of the emblematic Canarian species (Phoenix canariensis) for future reforestation actions in the Archipelago. The Cabildo’s councillor of Environment, Natalia Évora, followed the development of this project since the beginning, given the importance of “this first experience aimed at evaluating the capacity of regeneration of the Canarian palm tree in desert conditions, not only in order to try to rescue the species, but also in order to recreate the vegetal cover that existed centuries ago in this area. Projects like these enable us to discover new techniques to slow down the erosion and desertification processes that affect the island”. The reproduction of the original conditions of the palm grove of Buen Paso is one of the main goals of the Monteverde Project. According to the explanations of the technician specialised in reforestation from the Environment Deputy Council of the Canarian Government, Carlos Samarín, all the palm tree seeds used for the repopulation come from the palm grove of Buen Paso, “which ensures the purity of the species”. Also, in addition to the plantation of Phoenix canariensis, many other native species will be planted such as “tabaibas, jorjados or almácigos” as well as other species from more humid climates that also survive in Fuerteventura such as lavender, cornical, marine rosemary or esparragüelo. In total over one thousand specimens from various species will be included in the project, 150 of them are Canarian palm tree specimens, and the rest are other species that have been grown in the Cabildo’s nurseries, just like the palm trees, giving priority to plants closely related to palm trees that are more adapted to the environment. According to Mr. Samarín, historical references indicate that “the barrancos’ riverbeds used to be covered
with palm groves with important forestry density and aerial coverage”. However, he points out that various processes such as exploitation and the ensuing salinisation of the aquifer, the climate change or the erosion mean that it is essential to take specific measures in order to act on some of those conditions, given that “the conditions are not the same as five hundred years ago. Nowadays the intensity and frequency of rainfall has decreased, barrancos no longer flow and it is all made worse by the excessive use of the aquifer because of human activity”. The final objective is therefore “to create a habitat
that is as close as possible as what existed in the past and that characterised the presence of the Phoenix canariensis palm tree in Fuerteventura”, indicates the technician, and this is why a series of measures have been planned, many of them are quite avant-garde, aimed at protecting the palm grove and guaranteeing the survival of the repopulation. Specific measures to repopulate the Buen Paso palm grove Fences Amongst the project’s specific measures, one of the most important ones is the installation of fences in order to protect the palm grove, especially young plants that are more vulnerable. There are three types of fences. The first type is a perimeter fence all around the barranco that will prevent large animals from entering. Furthermore, three smaller plots have been fenced off on the flatter areas of the riverbed where plants that were grown in the Cabildo’s nurseries were panted; those are specifically planted to prevent wild animals from entering such as rabbits, squirrels, etc. Finally each palm tree has been protected with its own fence. Vegetal and edaphic treatments Once the fences were installed and the plantations in place, a maintenance plan of the plantations was put
in place with specific irrigation treatments and foliage fertilisers (with hormones) for a fast assimilation and treatment of radicular induction, whose objective is to guarantee the maximum percentage of rooting amongst the specimens. The soil where the plantation took place is of vital importance, which is the reason why the project includes the improvement of the physical conditions with manure and organic materials and also includes the improvement of the texture of the edaphic cover with the creation of stony areas that simulate the closeness of rocks. Bioengineering for the reproduction of a microclimate The irrigation of the installation consists of a system that comes from various points of the plantation, with the objective of improving the rooting of the plant; then by modifying the frequency of the irrigation the development of the roots is improved. Therefore each plant has a double system, the first one for the irrigation during the first six months and the second one for the following twelve months. The frequency varies also according to the weather and the time of the year, going, for example, from irrigating once every ten days to spacing it to once every month. The objective is for the roots to search for water themselves and develop a better root structure, in order to ensure that at the end of the project the plants are totally independent. However, the characteristics of the climate and the current conditions in Fuerteventura are not ideal for this type of project. The low level of humidity in Fuerteventura makes it necessary to improve that condition by adding water in the environment, ensure that the temperature won’t go down too much at night and allow a better development of the plantation. This is why there are “interesting facts in bioengineering” explains the technician in charge of the plantation, such as the creation of rocky areas in strategic points close to the new plantations that improve the presence of humidity in the environment. Another measure, also very interesting, and taken from experiences developed in arid climates such as Mexico, is the insertion of special pots buried in the ground that are filled with water as they keep emptying out. Those pots that consist of one cubic metre, were elaborated by a handcraft maker in Fuerteventura, using a concentration of water, clay and sand and a specific system of drying that allows for the water to seep out very slowly. “The pots reproduce the edaphic function by bringing humidity, regulating the presence of water in the soil at adequate levels”, adds Mr. Samarín, just as if the humidity came from an aquifer in good condition. Species integrated in the repopulation The main species of this project is obviously the Canarian palm tree (Phoenix canariensis). However, the reforestation was improved with the addition of many other native species such as the tabaiba amarga (Euphorbia obtusifolia), tabaiba dulce (Euphorbia balsamifera), espino de mar (Lycium intricatum), marine rosemary (Campylanthus salsoloides), esparragüelo (Asparagus pastorianus), almácigo (Pistacia atlantica), coronilla (Coronilla viminalis), lavander (Lavandula pinnata), tasaigo (Rubia fruticosa), retama (Retama rhodorhizoides), jorjado (Nauplius sericeus), tarajal (Tamarix canariensis), cornical (Periploca laeviagata), and vinagrera (Rumex lunaria). Also, in the surrounding area of the palm grove other agroforestry species were planted such as blackberry bushes, fig trees, pomegranate trees and carob trees.
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